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Navigating Workforce Dynamics: Key takeaways to tackle labor challenges

By June 11, 2024Projection

Even as the world moves beyond the pandemic, we still feel its residual effects. Inflation continues to drive up the prices of food, beverages and fuel. Meeting attendees expect more options, like hybrid events with remote sessions or immersive experiences – both depending on added technology and labor. All the while, the workforce is still in flux––91% of hotels find hiring a challenge, and in the US, we are still missing almost 2 million workers from the economy.

All of this adds up to a landscape that makes it difficult for professional event planners to accurately project costs and stay within budget for live meetings.

Fortunately, with the right knowledge and tools, there is opportunity for adjustments to be made. I recently had the privilege of participating in the “Navigating Workforce Dynamics” panel discussion at PCMA’s celebration of Global Meetings Industry Day. From my own experience and the answers of the other experts on the panel, I gleaned five key takeaways that can help others in the industry plan for a sometimes unpredictable–but hopeful–future.

1. Understand how labor costs work.

It is so easy to get frustrated by what seems like sudden rising costs in labor. However, when you know how the process works, you can ask the right questions and place yourself in a better negotiating position that ultimately leads to better outcomes for everyone.

Labor costs are influenced by a variety of factors, not just interest rates or politics. Each state and city you work in will have different regulations for wages, benefits, taxes, overtime, double time and unions. All of these variables mean that shifting venues can have a massive impact on your labor costs. You can get a general idea of how wages vary by region by speaking with your vendor partners who have experience in those cities before budgeting or making major decisions, such as start and end times or which rooms to use when.

Understanding how wages are paid also gives you the opportunity to think creatively about how to offset those costs. For example, it may make sense to pay for an additional day at your venue if that means that all setup costs will be within what is called “straight time,” or normal pay rates, instead of paying overtime (time and a half) for evenings or Saturday. The more you know about where your labor dollars are going, the better you are to be able to both estimate and impact those costs.

2. Work with unions, not against them.

Unions are a common scapegoat for rising prices, but meetings and events could not function smoothly without them. Nowhere else can you find the massive volume of workers needed to move into a venue within a few days — often on weekends or holidays – and the level of familiarity and experience with that venue.

The key is to find out from your potential venue how unions fit into the equation. Not just if the facility itself is unionized, but what labor sources and contractors are frequently used. The venue may not be unionized, but there are often contract stipulations and preferred vendors in place that will impact the bottom line.

Where there is sometimes trouble is within the minutiae of union regulations. It is worth asking questions about where you might incur extra payments at the outset of planning with that venue. Never assume that one location or union will have the same rules as another. Some unions require a washing-up period after meals, so providing an hour lunch break will not avoid a penalty. Others require the use of printed signs, even when digital signage is provided in your contract with the venue. Do not assume you know all of the hidden costs, and don’t be afraid to rethink how things are done or renegotiate terms.

3. Form strong relationships and rely on partners.

Meeting planners are well-known for their organizational, networking, problem solving and multitasking skills and creativity. Playing to these strengths makes for really successful events, so why not play to the strengths of your vendor partners, as well?

When you come across a question about costs that you don’t know the answer to, it can pay off in a big way to talk with someone who does. Even if you are planning a future event outside of the dates of your established vendor contract, most people are happy to help answer questions that will help you have a more informed vision for the future.

4. Provide as much information as you can, as early as you can.

When planning an event there is no good reason to keep things from your partners. The more information you share, the more accurate your quotes will be. If you don’t yet know exact numbers, it can be helpful to provide information from your last event. This gives your vendors at least an idea of what to expect. As soon as something changes or becomes clearer, share that.

For every proposal request, include as much information as possible, including things like start and end times, room reset needs, overnight turns, operator requirements, exhibitor numbers, historical spending data, freight weight, furniture rentals and floor coverings. No detail is too small. The more details you give, the more precise the estimates will be.

In addition to getting more accurate cost information impacting labor, sharing your ideas with partners may give you insight into technology tools or strategies you were not aware of. There may be a different type of monitor or audio equipment that will suit your needs but costs less. The possibilities are there if you ask.

5. Leverage AI and training.

Every industry is currently wondering how AI will fit into their plans, and meetings are no different. Ask your partners how they are integrating AI, and where it can help you save money. Not all tasks are suitable for AI–but things like concept renderings, audio feedback management, customer satisfaction analysis and more are jobs that can be passed on to improve efficiency.

Technology can also help create a workforce that is ready and able to help solve the problems that come with modern events. We have an aging workforce, and while young people are coming to fill the gaps, we lost a lot of mid-level technicians as a result of the pandemic. Mentorship programs, online training and social collectives are all programs you may consider investing in to ensure the necessary labor pool is there when you need it.

By understanding labor dynamics, fostering collaborative relationships with unions and vendors, and embracing technological advancements, event professionals can design and execute meetings with more confidence. These proactive approaches not only address immediate challenges but also pave the way for a more resilient and adaptable events industry. As professionals in the field continue to innovate and adapt, the future of event planning looks promising, with opportunities for creativity, efficiency and success on the horizon.